Valparaiso (2-5, 2-2 PFL)
at San Diego (4-4, 4-1 PFL)
Game #8 Saturday, Oct. 30, 3 p.m. CT
Torero Stadium (6,000) – San Diego, Calif.
This Week in Valpo Football: The Valparaiso University football team will attempt to keep its positive mojo going following a convincing victory over Dayton this past Saturday at Brown Field. This week, the Beacons will fly west for a Saturday afternoon date with San Diego in hopes of besting a historically-strong Pioneer Football League program for a second consecutive week.
Previously: Valpo faced a 20-14 halftime deficit this past Saturday at Brown Field, but the hosts outscored visiting Dayton 17-0 in the third quarter and used a 31-point second half to pull away from the Flyers 45-28. Quarterback Ben Nimz went 14-of-23 for 233 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Robert Washington contributed 91 rushing yards, three rushing TDs, 59 receiving yards and made a game-clinching 14-yard pass on fourth down in the closing minutes. Wide receiver Braden Contreras had four catches for a career-high 118 yards. Valpo won the turnover battle 3-0 behind a pair of Austin Chilton takeaways and a pick six by Jamauri Jackson.
Series Notes: San Diego owns a 20-6 lead in a series that dates back to 1993, but Valpo owns the most recent success by edging the Toreros – at the time a team receiving votes nationally – 20-19 on April 17, 2021 in the finale of the spring season. Braden Contreras caught a late touchdown pass from Ben Nimz to lift the Beacons past USD for the first time since 2003. Valpo is 2-11 all-time in games played at San Diego and has dropped nine in a row in the Golden State dating back to a 32-10 win on Oct. 28, 2000.
Following the Beacons: A video feed will be available on the WCC Digital Network free of charge. Todd Ickow (play-by-play) and Brandon Vickrey (analyst) will have the radio call on WVUR, 95.1 FM Valparaiso, ValpoAthletics.com and the TuneIn Radio app. For in-game social media updates, follow @valpoufootball on Twitter. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Landon Fox: Landon Fox (7-18) is in his third season as the head coach of the Valparaiso University football program in Fall 2021. During his second season at the helm in Spring 2021, Fox was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award – which is presented annually to the FCS National Coach of the Year – after guiding Valpo to its best winning percentage since 2003 and tying for the squad’s best winning percentage since 1999. He led his team to Pioneer Football League runner-up honors, the program’s highest finish in the league standings since the PFL championship season of 2003. Fox’s defensive roots paid dividends on that side of the football in his second year at the helm, as the team enjoyed its best defensive season in four decades. Valpo held opponents to 283.3 yards per game, the program’s best total defense in the last 40 years. Valpo limited the opposition to 172.2 passing yards per game, the program’s best passing defense since 2008. In addition, the squad boasted its best rushing defense (111.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (18.7 points per game) since 1999. In Year 1 of the Fox Era in 2019, Valpo ranked in the Top 5 in the PFL in scoring defense (32.0, fifth), total defense (381.6, fourth), rushing defense (184.2, fourth) and passing defense (197.3, fifth). After spending the previous 11 seasons as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at the University of Dayton, Fox was named the head football coach at Valpo prior to the 2019 season. He helped the Flyers finish with 10 winning seasons in his 11 years on staff and guided a defensive backfield that produced one All-American, four Academic All-Americans, two PFL Special Teams Players of the Year and three corners who were invited to NFL Rookie Minicamp. Prior to joining Dayton’s staff, Fox served as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Wayne State University in Detroit from 2005-2007. He also spent time as a defensive graduate assistant at Ball State University (2004), Dayton (2002-2003) and Lakeland College (2001). Fox began his coaching career as an assistant varsity coach at Preble Shawnee High School in Camden, Ohio during the 2000 season. During his playing days, Fox was a team captain and all-conference performer at Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio from 1995-1999 and graduated with a degree in physical education and health in May 2000 before earning his master’s degree in education from Lakeland in May 2002.
Downing Dayton: Valpo’s 45-28 victory over Dayton on Oct. 23 was significant in more ways than one. Valpo head coach Landon Fox earned his first victory against his former team, where he spent 11 years as defensive coordinator and secondary coach prior to earning Valpo’s top job. The win marked a considerable turnaround from Fox’s first matchup with his ex-employer, a defeat on Oct. 12, 2019 by a similar score of 41-28. The win was Valpo’s fourth in 30 all-time meetings with Dayton and first since 2017. The 45 points were the program’s most in any of the 30 matchups with the Flyers. The 17 points also represented Valpo’s largest margin of victory in the all-time series. Valpo has defeated Drake and Dayton – traditionally strong programs and fellow founding members of the PFL – in the same season for the first time since 2003 and the second time ever.
Rare Breathing Room: Valpo’s 17-point margin of victory in the 45-23 win vs. Dayton on Oct. 23 marked a welcome change from the team’s typical flair for the dramatic. It represented Valpo’s most lopsided triumph since beating Jacksonville 48-30 on Nov. 10, 2018. In addition, it snapped a Valpo streak of seven straight PFL games decided by seven points or fewer and a stretch of 14 straight decided by 12 points or fewer. Valpo’s previous four victories were decided by a combined total of 10 points with each of the four games decided by three points or fewer. The Dayton win was Fox’s largest margin of victory to this point in his head coaching career.
Putting Up Points: Valpo’s 45-point scoring output on Oct. 23 vs. Dayton represented the team’s highest point total in a game during the Landon Fox Era. It was Valpo’s highest scoring effort in any game since Nov. 10, 2018, a 48-30 win over Jacksonville. Valpo boasted 388 yards of total offense and 251 passing yards, both season highs. Both the total offense and passing yards were the team’s highest totals in those categories since Nov. 16, 2019 at Butler.
Second-Half Surge: Valpo trailed 20-14 at halftime and surged ahead after the break for a 45-28 victory on Oct. 23 vs. Dayton. This marked Valpo’s first victory when chasing at halftime this season as the Beacons were previously 0-5 when down at the intermission. Valpo’s last rally from down at half was the Spring 2021 season finale, when San Diego led 13-10 at the break before the Beacons prevailed 20-19. The 17-point third quarter against the Flyers on Oct. 23 was Valpo’s largest single-quarter point total since Nov. 17, 2018 at Stetson. By outscoring Dayton by 17 points in the third, Valpo enjoyed its best single-quarter scoring margin since blitzing Morehead State 21-0 in the first of an eventual 63-32 victory on Oct. 27, 2017.
Austin’s Powers: Redshirt sophomore defensive back Austin Chilton was named the Pioneer Football League Defensive Player of the Week by both the league office and College Sports Madness following his two-takeaway performance in Valpo’s 45-28 victory over Dayton on Oct. 23 at Brown Field. Chilton made a first-quarter interception that set up the Beacons with a short field to take a commanding 14-3 lead, then recovered a fumble on a punt play in the second quarter. Three of his five tackles were stuffs for either no gain or a loss. He is up to 34 tackles this season after accruing 13 during the Spring 2021 slate, all over the final two weeks. He has three interceptions this season and is tied for 16th nationally in interceptions per game. Valpo has won five weekly awards from either the league office or College Sports Madness this fall with Austin Martins (x2) and Ben Niesner accounting for the others.
Turnover Tidbits: Valpo owned a 3-0 edge in the turnover battle in the Oct. 23 game against Dayton. This marked Valpo’s first turnover-free game since the 10-7 win at Drake on April 3, 2021. The three forced turnovers also represented a season high and plus three was Valpo’s best single-game turnover margin since committing one to Stetson’s four in a 19-10 victory on Oct. 26, 2019. One of Valpo’s three takeaways in the Oct. 23 game vs. the Flyers was Jamauri Jackson’s interception return for a touchdown that accounted for the final points of the day with 6:04 to go in the fourth. That marked Valpo’s first pick six since Drew Snouffer returned one 40 yards for a score in a game at Morehead State on Oct. 20, 2018.
Proving Polls Imprecise: Valpo was picked to finish sixth of 11 in the Pioneer Football League preseason poll, but knocked off a Drake team that was projected to finish third in the Week 4 PFL opener and a Dayton team that was picked fourth in Week 8. Valpo has won four straight games against teams predicted to finish ahead of them in the standings after topping Drake and San Diego last spring, when the Toreros were picked to finish first and the Bulldogs were projected third. Valpo’s next chance to knock off a team picked ahead of the Beacons in the preseason poll will come this week at San Diego.
Strength of Schedule: Valpo’s three nonconference opponents currently hold a combined 18-2 record. North Dakota State is a flawless 7-0 and is ranked second nationally. Dartmouth owns a 5-1 mark and has cracked FCS Top 25 polls. Indiana Wesleyan has just one loss and is nationally ranked in NAIA. In addition, Valpo’s two conference setbacks have come against teams with a combined PFL mark of 6-2.
Noteworthy Rankings: Valpo has the best third-down defense in the PFL, holding opponents to a 34.7 percent conversion rate... The Beacons are one of seven teams nationally with four or more blocked kicks. They are currently tied for third behind only Delaware State and Arkansas State with five apiece... Brett Bittner is one of 10 players in the nation with multiple blocked kicks this season and the only player in the PFL who has accomplished that feat. He is tied for third nationally behind only Delaware State’s Kevin Deshields and Southern Illinois’ Anthony Knighton, who have blocked three kicks apiece... Robert Washington ranks 39th nationally and fifth in the PFL in all-purpose yards per game at 106.86. He ranks 21st in FCS and third in the PFL in rushing TDs with seven while leading the league with 547 rushing yards (38th nationally) and 78.1 rushing yards per game (42nd nationally)... Brian Bartholomew leads the PFL and ranks 22nd nationally with 1.33 made field goals per game... Chuck Maxwell leads the PFL and ranks 16th in the nation in kickoff return yards with 364... Ben Niesner leads the PFL and ranks 17th nationally in punting at 42.4 yards per attempt.
Niesner Notes: Ben Niesner averaged a career-high 53.2 yards per punt on six attempts in the Oct. 9 game at St. Thomas, helping him earn Pioneer Football League Special Teams Player of the Week honors. He launched four of his six punts 50-plus yards and all six 40-plus yards. His performance marked the 10th-best single-game punting average in Division-I FCS to that point in the season. His biggest boot of the day was a 63 yarder that represented his season long and the second-longest punt of his collegiate career. Entering Week 9 at San Diego, he is eighth among active Division-I FCS players with 8,006 career punting yards. Niesner, who was named to the FCS Punter of the Year Preseason Watch List and was a semifinalist for that honor a year ago, also earned PFL Special Teams Player of the Week laurels twice during the six-week Spring 2021 docket. Valpo had a higher punting average than its opponent in each of the first six games this season, a streak that was snapped on Oct. 23 vs. Dayton.
Robert in the Record Book: Valpo running back Robert Washington has rushed for 1,200 career yards in just 13 games in a Valpo uniform. He recently surpassed Kyle Cartales (1,140 yards; 38 games) and Brandon Hall (1,196 yards; 23 games) on Valpo’s career rushing list. He has a chance to get by Jarrett Morgan (1,267 yards; 39 games) and Jake Huston (1,296 yards, 26 games) for Valpo’s highest career rushing total since Jeff Horton closed out his career in 2007 with a school-record 3,072. In order to crack the top 10 in program history in career rushing yards, Washington would need to get to 1,644. Washington has rushed for 547 yards this season and needs to get to 824 to crack the top 5 in program history for single-season rushing yards.
Scouting the Opponent: San Diego was picked to finish second in the Pioneer Football League preseason poll, narrowly behind Davidson for the top spot. Head coach Dale Lindsey earned his 72nd career victory last week, establishing the program record for wins by a head coach. That came in a 69-28 rout at Presbyterian. After an 0-4 start to the season including three challenging nonconference games and a 28-16 setback to preseason favorite Davidson in the PFL opener, San Diego has run off four straight victories. The Toreros are 44-3 in their last 47 PFL games with the only losses coming to Davidson (twice) and Valpo (Spring 2021 finale). Valpo defensive line coach RJ Ghilarducci spent three seasons on staff at San Diego prior to arriving in Northwest Indiana before the Spring 2021 campaign.
100-Yard Efforts: Running back Robert Washington accrued 149 rushing yards in the Oct. 2 game vs. Marist, representing a season high and his seventh 100-yard rushing game in a Valpo uniform in just his 11th appearance. He eclipsed the 100-yard threshold for the third straight week. Over the last five seasons, there have been 12 100-yard rushing games by Valpo players, and Washington has accounted for seven of them.
Player Date Opponent Yards
Robert Washington 10/2/21 vs. Marist 149
Robert Washington 9/25/21 at Drake 143
Robert Washington 9/18/21 vs. Dartmouth 117
Robert Washington 4/10/21 at Morehead State 180
Robert Washington 4/3/21 at Drake 101
Robert Washington 3/27/21 vs. Butler 120
Robert Washington 3/13/21 at Butler 199
Chris Duncan 11/16/19 at Butler 102
Elias Earley 10/26/19 vs. Stetson 112
Chris Duncan 10/12/19 vs. Dayton 154
Kyle Cartales 10/6/18 at Dayton 116
Jarrett Morgan 9/16/17 at TIU 127
Beating the Bulldogs: Prior to the 10-7 win at Drake on April 3, 2021, Valpo had lost 17 straight head-to-head meetings with the Bulldogs and was 0-14 all-time at Drake. After the 24-21 victory on Sept. 25, the Beacons have won back-to-back games in the head-to-head series and earned their first two wins in Des Moines in the same calendar year. This marks the first time ever that Valpo has recorded consecutive wins over Drake.
Starting in Style: The Beacons have won the Pioneer Football League opener in back-to-back seasons after going on the road to beat Butler in the spring and starting the fall PFL slate with a win at Drake. Prior to the Spring 2021 PFL-opening victory, Valpo’s last win to begin league play was 2016 vs. Davidson. Valpo has started the conference docket with a victory in consecutive years for the first time since 2005 and 2006.
Team Captains: Fifth-year senior long snapper Doug Haugh, senior wide receiver Ollie Reese, senior running back Robert Washington, redshirt sophomore linebacker Evan Annis and fifth-year senior defensive lineman Nathan Orlandini were elected team captains by their peers. Haugh is in his second year as a team captain, while the other players occupy that role for the first time this season.
A Look Back at Spring 2021
- Finished with the program’s best winning percentage since 2003 (.666), tying for the squad’s best winning percentage since 1999.
- Held its best record through the first six games of a season (in this case, the only six games of the season) since 1999 and its best record through six league games since 1964.
- Won four PFL games in the same season for the second time ever (five, 2017) and four league games in any conference for just the second time since 1968.
- Snapped a 14-game losing streak to San Diego, earning the program’s first victory over the Toreros since 2003.
- Snapped a 17-game head-to-head skid by picking up its first win over Drake since 2003 and its first-ever win in Des Moines.
- Beat a San Diego team that was receiving votes in the latest STATS FCS Top 25 and AFCA Coaches Top 25 at the time of the matchup. The Toreros were nationally ranked earlier in the season. The loss marked San Diego’s second in its last 42 PFL games.
- The final four games of the season were all decided by four points or fewer, and all six games were dictated by 11 points or fewer.
- Completed a significant turnaround, going from 1-11 during the 2019 fall slate to 4-2 in Spring 2021 and a second-place finish in the PFL, the team’s highest finish in the PFL standings since the 2003 season.
- Five players earned all-PFL First Team honors, the team’s most since 2005.
- Placed 56 on the academic honor roll, a 15 student-athlete jump from the previous year and the second-most in program history (60, 2018).
- Outrushed opponents 910-668, the team’s first time gaining more yards on the ground than its opponents since 2007.
- Eclipsed 150 rushing yards per game for the second time in the last 12 seasons and the first time since 2014.
- Held opponents to 283.3 yards per game, the program’s best total defense in the last 40 years.
- Held opponents to 172.2 passing yards per game, the program’s best passing defense since 2008.
- Held opponents to 111.2 rushing yards per game, the team’s best rushing defense since 1999.
- Held opponents to 18.7 points per game, the team’s best scoring defense since 1999.
Fall 2021 Preseason Picks
- Valpo was picked to finish sixth of 11 in the Pioneer Football League preseason poll.
- Davidson was projected to win the league, edging out perennial favorite San Diego.
- Valpo boasted five players on the Preseason All-PFL team – running back Robert Washington, linebacker Jaxon Peifer, defensive back Keyon Turner, kicker Brian Bartholomew and punter Ben Niesner.
- Washington was named the Phil Steele PFL Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, while Niesner and Bartholomew joined Washington on the Phil Steele Preseason PFL First Team. Valpo’s second-team honorees included offensive lineman Aaron Byrd, defensive lineman Trejuan Purty, Turner, Peifer, kick returner Chuck Maxwell and long snapper Doug Haugh. In addition, linebacker Evan Annis was named to the third team.
- Niesner was also named to the FCS Punter of the Year Preseason Watch List by the Augusta Sports Council.
Spring 2021 Awards/Honors
- Landon Fox – Finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, presented annually to the FCS National Coach of the Year
- Keyon Turner – Finalist for Jerry Rice Award, presented to the FCS National Freshman of the Year… Named a Freshman All-American by HERO Sports
- Chuck Maxwell – Named a Freshman All-American by HERO Sports
- Robert Washington – PFL Offensive Player of the Year, first in program history (since the award began in 2001)
- Ben Niesner – co-PFL Special Teams Player of the Year (first in program history, conference began handing out the honor in 2015); FCS National Punter of the Year semifinalist (one of 10 nationally).
- PFL Players of the Week - Drew Gedrys – co-Special Teams Player of the Week (April 18); Robert Washington Offensive Player (March 28), Keyon Turner co-Defensive Player (March 28), Niesner co-Special Teams Player of the Week (April 4), Niesner Special Teams (March 21).
- College Sports Madness Players of the Week – Washingon (O – March 15), Washington (O – March 29)
- STATS FCS Perform National Team of the Week Honorable Mention on April 20 after win over San Diego.
- STATS FCS Perform National Player of the Week Honorable Mentions: Drew Gedrys (ST, April 20), Chuck Maxwell (ST, April 20), Ben Niesner (ST, April 20), Keyon Turner (D, March 30), Robert Washington (O, March 23).
- All-PFL First Team: Robert Washington, Jaxon Peifer, Ben Niesner, Keyon Turner, Brian Barthlomew
- All-PFL Second Team: Evan Annis, Chuck Maxwell
- All-PFL Honorable Mention: Aaron Byrd, Trejuan Purty, Doug Haugh, Jadarius Horton
- Cade Bishop – CoSIDA Academic All-District 5 Team
- Academic All-PFL First Team: Drew Parrish, Evan Annis, Cade Bishop, Ben Niesner; Academic All-PFL Second Team: Aaron Byrd & Kohlton Sherman
Spring 2021 Individual Achievements
- Ben Niesner finished with a season punting average of 43.6 yards per punt, tying Greg Wood’s 2010 program record for single-season punting average (when rounded to the nearest 10th of a yard). When taken to the next decimal place, Wood’s 2010 mark is slightly ahead of Niesner’s Spring 2021 mark at 43.63 and 43.85, respectively. Wood’s 2010 mark is also the PFL record with Niesner now second in PFL history.
- Niesner’s career-long 72-yard punt against San Diego was only the fifth punt of 72 yards or more in FCS during the Spring 2021 season, tied for the fourth longest in the nation.
- Drew Gedrys had two blocked kicks against San Diego, becoming only the third player in the FCS nation with multiple blocked kicks in a single game in the Spring 2021 season.
- Keyon Turner was part of a turnover in all six games with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He finished the season as the outright leader in takeaways. He was one of only five players in the nation with four or more interceptions… Lone freshman on all-PFL First Team… One of only five Valpo players with four or more interceptions in a single game over the last 12 years despite the fact that the slate was shortened to six games. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in interceptions per game, led the nation in interceptions among freshmen and became the first Valpo player with an interception in four straight games in over two decades and the first Valpo freshman with four interceptions in a season in over 20 years.
- Robert Washington – ranked eighth nationally in FCS in rushing yards per game at 108.8. Accrued 100 or more rushing yards on four occasions including a season-high 199 on 39 carries in the March 13 season opener at Butler, the highest single-game rushing output by a Valpo player since 2012. His 199-yard performance marked the ninth-highest single-game rushing number in the nation during the Spring 2021, and he was one of three players nationally with multiple games of 180+ rushing yards. Had the most rushing yards in a season by any Valpo player since Brandon Hall’s 855 in 2014 despite the Spring 2021 slate being shortened to six games… Ranked 11th nationally in total rushing yards (653) and 12th in all-purpose yards per game (129.33)…. One of seven unanimous All-PFL selections… First Valpo player with four 100-yard rushing games in the same season since Jeff Horton had six in 2005.
- Brian Bartholomew – Boasted the league’s best field-goal percentage at 87.5 percent, converting seven of his eight attempts. He had the most PATs without a miss in the league, going a perfect 13-for-13 on PATs. The redshirt sophomore ranked sixth in the PFL in scoring at 5.7 points per game. His season-long 49 yard field goal came at a critical time as it represented the first points of an eventual 10-7 win over Drake. He had Valpo’s best single-season field goal percentage in over 15 years.
- Chuck Maxwell finished his season as the FCS national leader in kickoff return average at 29.8 yards per return. He had 151 kickoff return yards in Week 6 vs. San Diego, the most by any PFL player in a single contest during the season. The 86 yarder marked the second-longest return by a PFL player in Spring 2021.
- QB Chris Duncan finished among the program’s career leaders in both passing yards (4086, sixth) and total offense (4,902). He finished his career ranked 21st in yards of total offense among active players in Division-I FCS.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Offensive Starters
*Based on two-deep, starters subject to change
- WR-z #13 Braden Contreras, So. – Two-time all-conference selection at Hinsdale Central High School… Father Steve played football at Amherst from 1995-1999… Earned all-state second team status and named his team’s Offensive Player of the Year Award in high school… Recovered a Butler onside kick in the final two minutes to help seal a 28-25 victory on March 27, 2021… Had his first career touchdown catch on April 17, 2021 vs. San Diego, hauling in the go-ahead score to put his team up 20-19 with seconds left on the clock in the game against the Toreros, an eventual upset over a team receiving votes nationally... Made a 35-yard TD catch on a pass from Ben Nimz in the fourth quarter of the Oct. 9, 2021 game at St. Thomas. That marked his second career TD grab... Had four catches for a career-high 118 yards on Oct. 23, 2021 vs. Dayton, becoming the first Valpo player with a 100-yard receiving game since Deuce Larose on Nov. 9, 2019 vs. Morehead State (112).
- LT #68 Aaron Byrd, R-Jr. – Majoring in bioengineering with a strong interest in prosthetics… The launch of Valpo’s bioengineering program within the school’s nationally-ranked College of Engineering attracted him to the University… Has performed undergraduate research in the Human Movement Research Laboratory under Craig Goehler, Ph.D., an associate professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering… Serves as a student tutor in the Hesse Learning Center on campus… Was a starter in 2019 and saw action in all 12 games… Started again in Spring 2021 and received All-PFL Honorable Mention, Academic All-PFL Second Team and the Sever Award, which is presented to the team’s top offensive lineman.
- LG #70 Jeremiah Orr, So. – Appeared in all six games and made four starts in Spring 2021… Four-year varsity letter winner in high school… Owns Drone Pilot Certification.
- C #72 Drew Parrish, R-So. – Did not see game action in his first season on campus in 2019… Started his collegiate debut on March 13, 2021 at Butler… Received the award given to the player with the highest GPA on his high school football team… Played six years of baseball including two in high school… Received numerous academic honors in high school… Majoring in electrical engineering… Enjoys hiking in Arizona when on vacation to visit his family there… Goes on a fishing trip every Thanksgiving to Branson, Mo. and stays at Lazy Valley Resort… Tutors other engineering students at Valpo’s Hesse Learning Resource Center… Named to the Spring 2021 Academic All-PFL First Team.
- RG #73 Danny Files, R-So. – Started all six games on Valpo’s offensive line during the Spring 2021 season… Member of the PFL Academic Honor Roll each of the last two years… Did not see game action in his first season on campus in 2019.
- RT #75 Jon Stone, So. – Engineering major… Two-time first-team all-conference pick and two-time Detroit Free Press all-state pick in high school… Also competed in basketball, track & field and wrestling in high school… Brother Dan competes in track & field at Michigan State and brother Nate plays rugby at Air Force Academy in Colorado.
- TE #84 Brett Bittner, R-Sr. –Started each of Valpo’s first four games during the Spring 2021 season… Class valedictorian in high school… Blocked a punt on Sept. 18, 2021 vs. Dartmouth and another one on Oct. 2 vs. Marist, becoming just the third player in the FCS nation with multiple blocked kicks this season.
- WR-x #6 Ollie Reese, Jr. – Had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on Oct. 12, 2019 vs. Dayton… Father Steve is a financial wholesaler and mother Margie works at an antique shop in the city of Franklin… Has one sister, Bailey, who is a member of the University of Tennessee Knoxville Class of 2019… Father and grandfather both played college football… Father played football and baseball at Bridgewater College in Virginia and graduated in 1985… 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention, Spring 2021 Preseason All-PFL Watch List… Appeared in all 12 games in 2019 and led Valpo in receptions (34), receiving yards (545) and receiving touchdowns (five) while averaging 16.0 yards per catch and 45.4 receiving yards per game… Established career highs in both receptions (8) and receiving yards (86) on March 20, 2021 vs. Drake, earning the team’s Offensive Player of the Week Award… Led the Valpo receiving core in Week 1 with three catches for 60 yards, including several difficult grabs where he battled a member of the Indiana Wesleyan secondary to pull down the football… Caught his sixth career TD and first since 2019 on Sept. 18, 2021 vs. Dartmouth, a 14-yard toss from Teryn Berry… Made a 42-yard catch on 4th-and-17 from the Valpo 28 in the final two minutes of Valpo’s 24-21 win at Drake on Sept. 25, 2021… Made three catches for a team-high 94 yards on Oct. 2, 2021 vs. Marist, the most by a Valpo player in a single game through the first five weeks of the season.
- Slot #12 Jordan Bingham, R-So. – Appeared in all six games in Spring 2021 after appearing in four games during his first season on campus in 2019… Played the drums when he was younger… Had a team-high 31 receiving yards and shared the team lead with four receptions on Sept. 18 vs. Dartmouth… Made a heroic, juggling catch for Valpo’s game-winning 30-yard touchdown on 4th-and-10 with 1:05 remaining in the 24-21 victory at Drake at on Sept. 27, 2021.
- #5 Ben Nimz, R-Jr., QB – Helped his high school team to a 23-3 record in 26 career starts… Took over at QB midway through the April 10, 2021 game at Morehead State and nearly led Valpo to its biggest comeback since 1995… Made his first career start on April 17, 2021 vs. San Diego and led Valpo to an upset victory over a team that was receiving votes nationally, the program’s first win over the Toreros since 2003… His first career TD pass was the go-ahead score with 21 seconds remaining against San Diego, a 9-yard toss to Braden Contreras that put Valpo ahead 20-19… Made his first start of the season on Sept. 11, 2021 at No. 5/4 North Dakota State… Came off the bench with 2:39 remaining on Sept. 25, 2021 at Drake to lead a game-winning touchdown drive. Completed a 42-yard pass to Ollie Reese on 4th-and-17 and a 30-yard TD pass to Jordan Bingham on 4th-and-10… Made his second start of the season and the third of his career on Oct. 2 vs. Marist and completed 15 passes for 193 yards... Went 14-of-23 for a career-high 233 yards on Oct. 23 vs. Dayton. The game featured a 48-yard completion to Robert Washington, his career-long pass.
- #3 Robert Washington, Sr., RB – Played in 12 games and made three starts at Old Dominion in 2019… Previously spent the 2016 season and part of the 2017 campaign at Charlotte… Was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN.com out of high school… Ranked as the 13th-best running back prospect nationally by ESPN.com out of high school... Earned the following honors in Spring 2021: PFL Offensive Player of the Year, All-PFL First Team, (unanimous), 2x College Sports Madness PFL Offensive Player of the Week (March 15, March 29), PFL Offensive Player of the Week (March 28), Team Offensive Player of the Year, Valparaiso University Male Athlete of the Year (ARC Awards), Valparaiso University Male co-Newcomer of the Year (ARC Awards)… Was the first player in Valpo history to earn PFL Offensive Player of the Year honors… Ranked eighth nationally in FCS in rushing yards per game at 108.8… Rushed for 653 yards and five touchdowns… Accrued 100 or more rushing yards on four occasions including a season-high 199 on March 13, 2021 at Butler… Had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and the fifth of his career with 24 carries for 117 yards on Sept. 18 vs. Dartmouth. Also threw a jump pass for a successful two-point conversion in the game against the Big Green… Had two TD runs including an 80 yarder – tied for the third longest in the FCS nation this season – in Valpo’s 24-21 win at Drake on Sept. 25. He totaled 143 yards on the ground and finished with 199 all-purpose yards by producing a team-high eight receptions… Had his third straight 100-yard rushing game with 27 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns on Oct. 2 vs. Marist... Impacted the offense in all three facets with 91 rushing yards, three receptions for 59 yards and a 14-yard pass on a trick play in the Oct. 23 win over Dayton. He boasted a career-high three rushing TDs, becoming the first Valpo player to rush for three TDs in a game since October 2018.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Projected Defensive Starters
*Based two-deep, starters subject to change
- DE #4 Trejuan Purty, Sr. – Transferred to Valpo for the 2019 season after spending the previous two years at East Tennessee State… Finished 2019 tied for sixth in the PFL with 3.5 sacks… Had six tackles for loss totaling 31 yards and racked up 31 tackles including 14 solos in 2019… 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention and Spring 2021 Preseason All-PFL Watch List… Spring 2021 All-PFL Honorable Mention after starting all six games… Had 20 tackles including a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss in Spring 2021.
- NG #93 Kurt Kessen, So. – Appeared in all six games during the Spring 2021 season… Had a strong showing on the defensive line in Week 1 at Indiana Wesleyan, racking up seven tackles including four solos…. Followed with six tackles in Week 3 vs. Dartmouth.
- DT #94 Nathan Orlandini, Sr. – Majoring in mechanical engineering… Competed in all 12 games in 2019 and totaled 28 tackles (12 solo) during his junior campaign…Started all six games on Valpo’s defensive line in Spring 2021… Had 2.0 TFL in Week 1 of the Fall 2021 season, leading a collection of 10 Valpo players who were involved in at least one tackle for loss… Had his first career fumble recovery while also accruing six tackles on Sept. 18, 2021 vs. Dartmouth.
- #46 Austin Martins, DE, R-Sr. – A junior college transfer from Modesto JC… Started his collegiate career as a Division-III running back… Had 2 ½ sacks to lift Valpo to the April 3, 2021 win at Drake, the most sacks in a single game by a Valpo player since 2015… Was named the Marines Valpo Valor Player of the Game following that performance…. Played in all six games and made two starts during the Spring 2021 slate… Named the College Sports Madness PFL Defensive Player of the Week following his performance on Sept. 18, 2021 vs. Dartmouth. He recovered two fumbles, both in the fourth quarter, becoming the first Valpo player with two fumble recoveries in a single game since 2005. In addition, he had six tackles including five solos… Named the PFL Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 4 after blocking Drake’s potential game-tying field goal with all zeros on the clock to clinch Valpo’s 24-21 win in Des Moines on Sept. 25, 2021.
- LB #2 Evan Annis, R-So. – Appeared in four games in his first season on campus in 2019, retaining four years of eligibility… Also a four-year letter winner in lacrosse in high school… Member of a fraternity on campus and majoring in bioengineering while playing football… Maintained a 4.0 GPA all through high school… Shared the team lead in tackles with nine including 1 ½ TFL on March 20, 2021 vs. Drake… Again tied for the team lead with nine tackles on March 27, 2021 vs. Butler… Led the team in tackles for the third straight game and had eight or more for the third consecutive contest with an eight-tackle output in the April 3, 2021 win at Drake… Finished the Spring 2021 season ranked second on the team and eighth in the league with 6.8 tackles per game… Earned Spring 2021 All-PFL Second Team, Academic All-PFL First Team and the team’s Koenig Award, which is presented to an individual who displays outstanding sportsmanship and character… Shared the team lead with seven tackles on Sept. 18, 2021 vs. Dartmouth while also forcing a fumble, the first of his collegiate career… Led the team with nine tackles including 1.5 TFL on Oct. 2 vs. Marist.
- LB #10 Jaxon Peifer, Sr. – Had 10 tackles in his first career start, the 2019 season opener at Eastern Kentucky, earning the team’s Defensive Player of the Week nod that week… Majoring in nursing… Registered 62 tackles (31 solos) over 11 games in 2019, notching 3.0 tackles for loss… Forced a pair of fumbles while also receiving credit for two QB hurries and a pass breakup during his breakout 2019 season… Tied for fourth in the PFL in forced fumbles per game and tied for 23rd in the league at 5.6 tackles per game… Accumulated eight tackles in the Spring 2021 opener at Butler, his third collegiate game with eight or more stops… Named the team’s Defensive Player of the Week for his March 20, 2021 performance vs. Drake, when he had six tackles, 0.5 TFL and a QB hurry… Tied for the team lead in tackles on March 27, 2021 vs. Butler with nine including six solos and one sack… Had a team-high nine tackles on April 10, 2021 at Morehead State… Finished the Spring 2021 season as the team leader in tackles with 42, raking seventh in the PFL at 7.0 tackles per game… Named Spring 2021 All-PFL First Team and team Defensive Player of the Year after earning 2019 All-PFL Honorable Mention…. Boasted a career-high 14 tackles on Sept. 4, 2021 at Indiana Wesleyan to lead the team. It marked his third career double-figure tackle output and first since a 10-tackle performance on Nov. 9, 2019 vs. Morehead State... Tied a career high and led the team with 14 tackles (including eight solos) on Oct. 9, 2021 at St. Thomas.
- LB #24 Trey Psota, R-Jr. – Finished third on the team with 69 tackles and had the most tackles among non-seniors in 2019… Had two tackles for loss, a pass breakup, a QB hurry, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble and a blocked kick during his redshirt freshman season… Had a season-high 11 tackles on two occasions in 2019, Sept. 28 vs. Charleston and Oct. 26 vs. Stetson… Played in the 13U Little League World Series during his youth, taking on teams from all over the United States as well as Mexico, Puerto Rico and other international opponents… Shared the team lead in tackles with nine including four solos and 1 ½ TFL on March 20, 2021 vs. Drake… Played in all six games and made four starts during the Spring 2021 season, totaling 23 tackles… Crossed the 100-tackle career milestone on Sept. 11 at North Dakota State… Had Valpo’s first safety since 2006 and the team’s first credited to an individual in over two decades when he sacked the Dartmouth quarterback in the endzone on Sept. 18, 2021… Blocked a 22-yard field goal try in the second quarter on Oct. 2 vs. Marist... Had a team-high nine tackles on Oct. 23 vs. Dayton.
- CB #1 Keyon Turner, So. – Spring 2021 finalist for Jerry Rice Awards (FCS National Freshman of the Year), HERO Sports Freshman All-American, All-PFL First Team and Team Newcomer of the Year… Led the FCS nation in takeaways with six (four interceptions, two fumble recoveries)… Had a takeaway in all six games he played… Saw his remarkable streak of notching a takeaway in each of his first six collegiate games come to an end in Week 1 of the Fall 2021 season at Indiana Wesleyan, but the sophomore standout did turn in a career-best nine tackles.
- S #29 Kohlton Sherman, Sr. – Spring 2021 Academic All-PFL Second Team… Spring 2021 Team Outstanding Hitter… Ranked third on the team with 28 tackles and second on the squad with 19 solo stops… Grabbed an interception in the Spring 2021 finale vs. San Diego… Had a big game on Sept. 11 at North Dakota State, racking up a team-high 10 tackles including four solos. It was his second-career double-figure tackle game and first since Nov. 2, 2019 at Davidson. He also crossed the 100-tackle career milestone in that contest against the Bison.
- S #20 Austin Chilton, R-So. – Appeared in three games and made one start in Spring 2021… Racked up seven tackles including 0.5 TFL on April 10 at Morehead State… Had six tackles in the April 17 finale vs. San Diego… Lives a few minutes from Walt Disney World and can hear the Magic Kingdom Fireworks from his neighborhood every night… Mechanical engineering major whose career goal is to design and build roller coasters for Disney World… Turned in Valpo’s first takeaway of the season in Week 1 at Indiana Wesleyan by notching an interception, the first of his career… Set a career watermark with seven tackles to share the team lead on Sept. 18 vs. Dartmouth... Had his second interception of the season on Oct. 9 at St. Thomas, as he accounted for both of the team’s picks through the season’s first six games... Named the PFL Defensive Player of the Week by both the league office and College Sports Madness following the Oct. 23 victory over Dayton. In the game against the Flyers, he made an interception and recovered a fumble while also notching five tackles.
- CB #3 Jadarius Horton, Sr. – Transferred from Southwestern College prior to 2020-21… Earned All-PFL Honorable Mention… Started all six games and finished the season with 15 tackles (13 solos) and three pass breakups… Notched a sack on Sept. 11 at North Dakota State for his first career tackle for loss. The sack went for a loss of seven, one of the defensive highlights of the day for the Beacons.
Specialist Quick Hits – Projected Starters
- K #87 Brian Bartholomew, R-Jr. – Did not seen game action in either of his first two seasons on campus (2018 and 2019)… Started his career as a walk-on and evolved into a First Team All-PFL kicker in Spring 2021, earning the team’s Most Improved Player Award… Went 7-of-8 on field-goal tries and 13-of-13 on PATs in Spring 2021… Ranked fifth in the league in scoring at 5.7 points per game, second in field goals per game at 1.17, first in made PATs without a miss and first in field-goal percentage at 87.5… Boasted Valpo’s best single-season field goal percentage in over 15 years… Went 1-for-2 on field goals in Week 1 at Indiana Wesleyan and made from 34 yards out, moving to 8-of-10 in his Valpo career… Went 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts on Sept. 18, 2021 vs. Dartmouth to improve to 10-of-12 in his Valpo career and 3-of-4 this season… Made a 39-yard field goal on Sept. 25, 2021 at Drake that proved to be the difference in a 24-21 victory… Made a 25-yard field goal in overtime on Oct. 2 vs. Marist... Went 2-for-3 on field-goal attempts in the Oct. 9 game at St. Thomas, making from 32 and 31.
- P #33 Ben Niesner, Sr. – Joined the team in 2019 as a transfer after spending the previous two seasons at Portland State, where he earned the starting role at punter… Started school at Oregon State in 2016-17 before transferring to Portland State, where he beat out a scholarship punter to become the starter for the final game of 2017 and all of 2018… Didn’t begin teaching himself how to punt until after his senior year of high school… Before his first year at Portland State in 2017, hadn’t played football in his life except a brief stint of youth football… Named All-PFL Honorable Mention in 2019… Earned the following honors in Spring 2021: PFL co-Special Teams Player of the Year, All-PFL First Team, FCS National Punter of the Year Semifinalist, Academic All-PFL First Team, 2x PFL Special Teams Player of the Year (March 21, April 4), Stats FCS Perform National Player of the Week Honorable Mention (April 5), Team Special Teams Player of the Year… Led the PFL and ranked eighth nationally in FCS in punting average in Spring 2021 at 43.58, that mark ranked second in PFL and program history or tied for the PFL record in both categories when rounded to the nearest 10th… Averaged 38.8 yards per punt on four boots and pinned one inside the 5-yard line in Week 1 at Indiana Wesleyan… Was a bright spot for Valpo on Sept. 11 at North Dakota State, totaling 302 yards on seven attempts for an average of 43.1 yards per punt. He placed two kicks inside the 20 including a 58 yarder, his longest of the season to that point… Also turned in Valpo’s longest rush of the day, a 17-yard gain to move the chains on fourth-and-4 from the Valpo 36-yard line early in the second quarter… Had six attempts for 267 yards, averaging 44.5 yards per punt on Sept. 18, 2021 vs. Dartmouth. Pinned four of his six boots inside the 20 and rocketed a long of 55… Surpassed the 7,000-yard threshold for his collegiate career (Valpo and Portland State) on Sept. 25 at Drake… Pinned seven of his eight punts inside the 20 on Oct. 2 vs. Marist... Earned PFL Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging a career-best 53.2 yards per punt on six attempts in the Oct. 9 game at St. Thomas.